San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr has a message for the city’s bullied youth, “I can tell you, it gets better. Everybody has had their moments where they didn’t think it would get better and it did.”
With bullying – especially of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth (LGBT) – becoming an increasingly high profile issue, the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) has taken extra steps to reach out to the city’s youth. The police department recently released an eight-minute video – to join the chorus of others produced for Dan Savage’s It Gets Better Project – in which LGBT officers discuss the challenges they faced as youth. And they each say that, for them, it did get better.
“I would say by the age of 5, 6, I already knew that I should kind of keep it on the down low,” said one police officer, featured in the video, of her sexuality. “I didn’t really have any positive gay role models that I thought were out there.”
“I was a police officer for about four years, thinking that I was the only male, gay police officer in the world,” said a police sergeant featured in the video. “I actually believed that I was the only gay, male police officer in the world.”
“I would’ve missed the first time being held by someone I love,” said Officer Broderick Elton, featured in the video, reflecting the It Gets Better Project’s focus on suicide prevention. “Loving, I would’ve missed experiencing just the joy and jubilation of life, of people who show me amazing new things all the time, new ways to think, and new ways to look at the world,”
Chief Suhr’s interest in making an SFPD video was sparked when his Chief of Staff, Commander Lyn Tomioka, suggested he watch the It Gets Better video produced by the San Francisco Giants, the city’s Major League Baseball team. For Commander Tomioka the project is personal, “I’m a parent of a gay child and was very interested in hopefully getting parents to understand to just accept their children as they are,” she said. When Chief Suhr learned that no police department had ever made a video for the project, he immediately wanted to make the SFPD the first.
It was “a complete, no cost endeavor,” Chief Suhr said of the project, for which all of the participating officers volunteered. There were many more volunteers than were ultimately featured in the video, Chief Suhr said, including straight police officers who were bullied as youth. “It’s a way to remind our next generations how to be kind to one another,” said Commander Tomioka.
Since its debut on February 10, 2012, the video has been viewed more than 165,000 times on YouTube alone.
Even without active outreach efforts to youth, the response from youth and other members of the community has been overwhelming. Chief Suhr says that many people – youth and adults alike – have approached members of the SFPD to say thank you, and that the San Francisco public schools have begun to show the video in some of their classrooms
“It’s going viral,” said Chief Suhr, “and stimulating conversation between kids in all walks of life and officers, and adults in general.”
Chief Suhr said the SFPD plans on maintaining its relationship with San Francisco filmmaker, Shawn Northcutt, and on making more videos in the future – expanding the message beyond LGBT youth. He also encourages other police departments to make videos of their own, and to encourage officers to speak to youth in their element. “Anything that makes things better for youth,” he said.
“I will help you and I will protect you and I will listen,” says a female police officer at the end of the video. “Things start getting better as soon as you reach out to other people. You need to know that you’re okay, that you are beautiful. It gets way better.”